Balinese Gamelan

Indonesian (Balinese) Gamelan

Exploring a world of music and dance from across the Pacific

Background image: A dancer performs to Balinese Gamelan music

Balinese Gamelan Semar Pagulingan Description and History

A singer performs during a Balinese Gamelan performanceThe Department of Music, with the assistance of the Center for Southeast Asia Studies, purchased a beautiful set of instruments known as gamelan semar pagulingan in 2000. This seven-tone bronze ensemble is a replica of the kinds of ensembles played in the royal bedchamber of the courts of Medieval Bali. In the early 20th Century most of these ensembles were melted down to be refashioned as the larger, flashy, gamelan gong kebyar which has a pentatonic (five-tone) tuning and is the most prevalent kind of gamelan in Bali and abroad However, in the late 20th Century, young composers in Bali and aficionados of the delicate “classical” style were drawn to the rare timbre and tuning of this kind of ensemble and its popularity grew. It is extremely rare in western universities. The seven-tone tuning allows for complex compositions with modulations in classical as well as contemporary works.

The performing ensemble course (Music 146B) meets twice per week and allows students an in-depth experience of learning to play and perform Balinese music, with a Noon Concert in Hertz Hall each Spring Semester. Students are taught by Lisa Gold with a Balinese guest master musician who is in residence with Gamelan Sekar Jaya, the Bay Area’s Balinese performing ensemble. Parts are taught by ear: the teacher plays each phrase and students learn to play that phrase, gradually adding phrases until the entire complex composition is learned. Students are encouraged to record lessons. There are many layered parts in the ensemble in a texture known as “stratified polyphony” or “heterophony” as instruments elaborate on a skeletal melody. One feature of this music is interlocking parts, where pairs of parts dovetail together to result in a rapid, composite melody. Balinese music is known for its rhythmic complexity and excitement, syncopated and polyrhythmic layering, and lyricism.

Guest master musicians have included I Dewa Putu Berata, I Nyoman Windha, I Wayan Suweca, I Made Subandi, I Made Arnawa, I Wayan Gama, I Putu Putrawan, and Ni Ketut Arini. Among the guest dancers for concerts are Ni Ketut Arini, I Made Suteja, Emiko Saraswati Susilo, & Shoko Yamamuro.

Performers in the Balinese GamelanStudents are encouraged to repeat the course year after year as we build the community,  proficiency, and cohesiveness of the group. However, no previous experience is required to join.

The gamelan is also played in Music 139 and 133 lecture courses in “lab” for a limited time in each semester. These courses also include lecture-demonstrations of Balinese music, dance and puppetry.

Students’ ability to learn by ear, to match pitch and rhythm, and listen to the other players in the ensemble will be assessed over the first two to four class meetings.

Audition Information

Prospective students are tested for ability to match pitch and rhythm in the first class meeting. For further information, please contact Lisa Gold (

Audition information for all performance opportunities in the Music Department.

A Balinese Gamelan performance

Berkeley's Gamelan Ensembles

Learn the difference between our two Gamelan ensembles